All 21 entries tagged Tony Blair

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January 07, 2007

Blair on Saddam: 'What A Kerfuffle'

Lou and Andy, or Blair and Brown While Downing Street might appear terraced to the untrained eye, houses 10 and 11 are definitely semi-detached.

The relationship between Blair and Brown is now so petty that when Brown jumps, Blair has to rush straight in, desperate not to be left behind.

This morning, Brown told Andrew Marr that the manner of Saddam Hussein’s execution was “deplorable and unacceptable”. It’s taken him a week to realise this, but never mind.

Up to now, Tony Blair has kept a bizarre silence on the execution. He’s left public statements to Margaret Beckett and avoided the issue. But now Brown’s offered some thoughts on the issue, Blair has – in his eyes – had to do the same.

What a kerfuffle.

It’s possible that Blair’s been keeping quiet because he doesn’t want to weaken the extremely-shaky Iraqi government. But everyone in Britain’s going to be thinking he’s trying to keep his hands clean.

Yet again, Blair looks weak and Brown’s forced his hand. It’s obvious Brown is getting the best political advice, even if he’s the dullest interviewee on the planet.

P.S. Iain Dale says the BBC’s topline from the interview (Brown and Blair split) shows how dull the interview was. I reckon Brown’s a bit cleverer than Iain is suggesting. Brown knew he could talk rubbish for 15 minutes, drop in the words “deplorable” and “unacceptable” and write the headlines himself.

Brown decided what he wanted the Beeb’s topline to be before he began the interview. And he knew that ‘Brown gives dull interview’ wouldn’t be a major story in the Mainstream Media. Any Blair/Brown split is coming straight from No 11.


December 15, 2006

Dig For Victory?

Burying Bad News

The BBC’s Nick Robinson has called it spot on. Yesterday wasn’t a matter of burying bad news. It was:

fly tipping so much that one scarcely knows what to begin with

Let’s consider, as Loyd Grossman would say, the evidence.

  • The 832-page Stevens Report into Princess Diana’s death.
  • Ongoing investigations in Ipswich murder hunt.
  • The closure of 2,500 post offices.
  • The end of the Serious Fraud Squad’s inquiry into BAe and Saudi Arabia
  • Proposals to build four new runways at British airports
  • Discussions about giving prisoners the right to vote
  • Plans to limit the Freedom of Information Act
  • Prime Minister goes to Europe for key summit
  • Oh, and he’s questioned by police for selling honours.

All in all, a busy day’s work.


December 14, 2006

NEWSFLASH: Tony Blair Questioned by Cash–For–Honours Police

He was not interviewed under caution, but as a witness. Just as I said all along. (Cough)

You have to assume it’s been timed to knock the Post Office closures story down the agenda. Which it has already.


December 08, 2006

Cash for honours – The big interview this weekend?

Guido Fawkes reports that Tony Blair will be interviewed “under caution” by the police, possibly tonight soon, in relation to the Cash for Honours investigation.

I remain sceptical about this “under caution” business, but it might be worth keeping one eye on the news this evening.

Three asides though:

1. Blair said this afternoon that ‘Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don’t come here.’ This is far stronger language than we have heard from Mr Blair in the past. I find it interesting that he said this today, especially if Guido Fawkes’s speculation is correct, as it could be perceived as ‘burying bad news’.

2. An anonymous MP (allegedly) writes on Guido’s blog:

I was sat opposite him during PMQs when James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East, Conservative) asked “Does the Prime Minister expect to be interviewed under caution by the police this weekend?” Blair replied “For very obvious reasons, I have absolutely nothing to say on that subject.” The TV cameras didn’t catch how he was hyper-ventilating and his face was flushed.

3. But here’s a contradictory – and slightly plausible – theory. This rumour’s being propagated by backbench Tory MPs hoping to give the Prime Minister a rough weekend. Guido Fawkes is being used as their mouthpiece.

We should find out fairly soon whether this whole story’s a load of spin.


December 07, 2006

Mr Blair's gentle spanking

The BBC’s Nick Assinder reports that left-wing members of the Labour Party are salivating over the prospect of Tony Blair being spoken to about the cash-for-honours scandal, under caution.

They say that if this happened to a Labour councillor, they’d be suspended while an investigation takes place. So what chance of this happening to Mr Blair himself?

None.

He’s unlikely to be questioned under caution. The Met have already said they’re not treating him as a suspect. Guido Fawkes and the Campaign Group of socialist Labour MPs are both facing disappointment, I suspect.


November 20, 2006

Still deluded

Blair in Afghanistan

Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is where the future of world security in the early 21st Century is going to be played out.

When’s he going to realise a civil war in the Afghan mountains has nothing to do with the security of 60 million people he’s supposed to be governing?


October 26, 2006

Trust me, you don't want your own Mayor.

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2422044,00.html

When a book of ill-conceived ideas is written, Tony Blair’s notion of directly-elected mayors will probably be mentioned in the sleeve notes, if not on the front cover. What appears to be a great way of getting people more involved in local politics is actually a disaster waiting to happen, for the simple reason that the British local press won’t know what to do with themselves.

When a mayoral race takes place in a town or city with only one newspaper (or multiple newspapers all owned by the same group – unfortunately very common nowadays) the potential for the race to be rigged in favour of one candidate is extremely strong.

Newspapers differ from broadcast journalism because they can take any editorial line they like and favour one person over another without any recriminations. In general election, there’s nothing wrong with The Sun calling on people to vote for Labour, but if the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 did it, they’d find themselves without jobs or broadcast spectrum.

And it’s the lack of plurality in local newspapers which make directly-elected mayors such a worry. If there was only one national newspaper for the whole of Britain, wouldn’t you be worried if they could proclaim “Vote Smith” on their front page?

Well locally, where there is often a monopoly in newspapers, this is the exact same situation, writ small. In Cardiff, for instance, a town of 300,000 people, there is one truly local newspaper and one Wales-wide paper. They’re both owned by the same company and work from the same offices. If they decided to agree one editorial line (and I’m not suggesting they necessarily would), they could very easily swing an election.

It’s true that blogs, the BBC’s experiments in Local TV and the rise of citizen journalism might make this less of an issue in the future. But while these are in their infancy and local newspapers are the dominant source of local information, Blair’s idea of directly-elected mayors aids only those who want to see the total dominance of machine politics in Britain.


October 12, 2006

Has Tony got a dicky ticker?

David Blunkett says Tony Blair has been having heart problems since 1988.

Downing Street denies the allegation, made in Blunkett’s new book of diaries.

Who do we believe?

Well, ordinarily I rarely believe a word that comes from the Labrador-loving former Home-Secretary. But he appears to have two witnesses who are willing to corroborate his story. And they are?

Fmr President Bill Clinton and HM Queen Elizabeth II

The “mystified” response from Number 10 either confirms what we’ve always known about spin doctors, or suggests Tony doesn’t trust them either!


October 10, 2006

Capn' Blair going to walk the plank?

Writing about web page http://5thnovember.blogspot.com/

Guido Fawkes, a well-known source for political gossip, reckons Tony Blair is about to be read his rights and arrested over the cash-for-honours scandal. Blair’s complicity in the events which led to money being given to the Labour Party in return for Peerages is widely assumed to be large enough to cause him trouble.

But arrested? I’d be surprised. If Blair’s arrested then he’s finished at No. 10. Much more likely that’s he’ll be interviewed as a witness unless they’ve turned up some spectacularly conclusive evidence.

(Can you imagine bailing him so he can’t leave the country and go to any foreign summits etc… could be a little embarrasing).


September 15, 2006

Alan Johnson's Big Dilemma

Alan Johnson faces a tough decision: run for the Labour leadership and probably lose to Gordon Brown, or run for the Deputy leadership and face a tough battle with big names like Jack Straw. But the real dilemma is: if not Johnson versus Brown, then who else?

According to The Guardian today, Alan Johnson is under pressure from Blairites in the Labour Party (those that remain!) to run for the leadership. But a ‘close friend’ says he’d rather be Deputy to someone else, like Gordon Brown.

You can see why when you examine the figures from the Electoral Reform Society, which puts John McDonnell ahead of Brown and Johnson in the minds of over 200 trade unionists at the TUC Conference. Johnson has a mountain to climb with the unions, a group both key to the election of the next leader – and deputy – but also wary of Johnson who in many ways should be a natural ally.

With Jack Straw expected to declare his intention to run for the Deputy Leadership at the weekend, Alan Johnson’s position is precarious. He would be in real danger of losing both elections (like Margaret Beckett) and facing a disappointing future career in the Cabinet (or even outside).

But the real question for Alan Johnson is: if he isn’t the quasi-Blairite to run for the leadership, who will be? Perhaps Charles Clarke. Maybe John Reid. But his head is probably telling him that neither would stand much of a chance against Brown.

With the pace of the leadership election quickening by the day (I’d be surprised if someone doesn’t declare something at the weekend), Johnson is going to have to make decisions quickly or he’ll be left behind with too much ground to make up.


September 06, 2006

What the political journalists aren't telling you…

It’s clear that things are shifting pretty quickly in Westminster. Today seven members of the government have resigned because – essentially – Tony Blair won’t resign.

But we’re not quite getting the whole story, because we never do. The way these things work in Westminster are a bit complicated and full of as much conspiracy as you can probably imagine. I’m afraid I am speculating, but here’s what’s probably going on at the moment:

  1. The Labour backbenchers are furious that Tony Blair has announced a date for his departure, without actually saying so himself. Instead you had David Miliband explain the “conventional wisdom”, Hilary Armstrong tell us of the “perceived wisdom” and poor Hilary Benn speak of the “growing consensus”. It was pretty clear they were all singing from the same hymn-sheet, written by No 10. What’s more, the Sun were more specific in naming a date, which anyone who knows Westminster knows it will have come from No 10 too. Interestingly the leaked memo saying how Blair would enjoy a ‘farewell tour’ of the country is rumoured to have come from Gordon Brown’s allies. It may even have been written by them to embarrass Blair.
  2. The seven Labour backbenchers who have resigned their positions will have been getting a) a lot of stick from the Labour whips, who work for Blair and b) a lot of love from Gordon Brown’s allies, who have probably promised them jobs in his government. Expect more to sign-up for the Brown revolution as soon as his henchmen can convince them of their future opportunities for employment.
  3. While 17 Labour MPs signed a letter yesterday, calling for him to go, another 49 signed one declaring their undying love for the leader (practically). What’s interesting isn’t that the Blair-lovers trumped the Blair-haters, but that they could only drum up support from 13% of the party. The rest are conspicuous by their absence.
  4. May 31st is an interesting date for Blair to choose to leave. Notably because it’s after the local, Scottish and Welsh elections next year. Blair is pretty unliked in Scotland and Wales, as he is seen (not surprisingly) as a stupid Englishman. So staying in power during their elections will piss them off no-end.
  5. News organisations like the BBC and Sky are having real difficulties in finding ministers who will stand up and support Blair. Hilary Benn did so last night because he was told to, but few others are coming out of the woodwork voluntarily. Note that the 1 o’clock news on BBC One could only drum up a Welsh Lord, whose praise for Blair was extremely conditional on him going before May 31st. High praise indeed.
  6. While Labour backbench MPs want Blair out, they’re not entirely sure how to do it. There’s no formal mechanism for removing the leader (for some reason Blair decided not to create one!!!), and their best bet seems to be for the Cabinet to turn on him. As soon as you see a single member of the Cabinet say that they think it would be best for Blair to step down, he’s finished. They wouldn’t say so openly unless they thought they had support from others.
  7. Some of the Labour MPs who have resigned were slavishly Blairite before today. It suggests that their political career was built upon brown-nosing (no pun intended) whoever appears to be in charge. Now that Brown is in the driving seat, people are switching vehicles.

Personally it’s very frustrating I can’t sit in on the Lobby briefings that take place at Number 10. The tension must be incredible. Maybe they’d like to invite me? Ha ha! You can get some idea of what’s been said here, but you really have to read between the lines to figure out what sort of body language the PM’s official spokesman would have been using! I rather suspect he was trying hard to hide his dejection.

P.S. I notice from the PMOS briefing this morning: “As he had already said… David Miliband had decided to go on the Today Programme himself.” The question is whether he decided what to say himself…

P.P.S. The seven members of the government who’ve resigned all have one thing in common: their seats are in danger at the next election. They’re all from the Birmingham area (where Labour reckons it’s going to get wiped out) or Wales (see above for explanation). So it’s not about Tony going – they’re worried that if he doesn’t go soon, they’ll be following him shortly!


September 05, 2006

Blair is Finished

Let’s take a look at the evidence…

  • 17 Labour MPs have signed a letter asking him to resign.
  • A leaked memo details Blair’s “Farewell Tour”, indicating all he cares about now is his legacy.
  • BBC News 24 and Sky News can’t find a Labour backbencher who will support Blair.
  • David Miliband is backtracking on statements made at the weekend.
  • No-one’s paying any attention to Blair’s policy statements that he’s making today.
  • There are rumoured to be two more letters in circulation calling for Blair to go sooner rather than later.

Tony, when it became clear that you were more interested in changing the history books than in changing the country, you lost all the support you’ve ever had.

He might stay in power for a few more months, but as Michael Brown of the Independent has just said on BBC News 24:

What was a ‘lame duck’ Premiership has just become a ‘dead duck’ Premiership


Woss goin' on?

Friday: Tony Blair says he’s not going to announce a timetable for his departure, telling his party to stop “obsessing” about it.

Tuesday morning: David Miliband (one of Blair’s few close allies) says Blair will go in about twelve months time.

I think we have to assume that Miliband didn’t blurt this out by accident, so what’s Tony and Co. playing at?


September 04, 2006

Why's Blair passing up the solar–powered bandwagon?

Tony Blair’s rarely afraid of jumping on other people’s bandwagons. Whether it’s school dinners or aid for Africa, Blair follows as often as he leads. This often extends – especially before the 2005 election – to stealing ideas from the Conservatives. So why hasn’t Blair jumped on David Cameron’s most successful bandwagon, the environment?

The Director of Friends of the Earth says the Conservatives’ stance on the environment is as important as Labour’s Clause IV moment. But the key difference is that the Conservatives couldn’t do anything about Clause IV, whereas Labour could easily steal a lead on the environment if it wanted to. True, it would make Blair look weak, but it would also be the pragmatic thing to do. Blair boasts of his environmental record, but the reality is that he could do much, much more. The words “environmental tax” or “green tax” have never been spoken by Gordon Brown (which doesn’t suggest much for his presumed Premiership), and there is little support for individuals or businesses who want to go green, just legislation.

At DEFRA you have a very competent minister in David Miliband, but he too has offered little on the environment. So why?

My theory is that DEFRA is simply too big. Many have called for it to be broken up in the past, but with the environment such a key issue I think it’s high time that we had a Cabinet-level Environment Minister and a separate Department for the Environment.

DEFRA seems bogged down in agricultural issues, and bunching the environment with ‘rural affairs’ seems to be a strange association to make. Surely environmental problems usually originate in cities?

Breaking up DEFRA would focus minds and allow new policy initiative to be made. Otherwise it’s inevitable that David Cameron will be able to steal a lead on the environment when it’s an area of policy that ought to be Labour’s strong suit.


September 01, 2006

Tony Blair's lost the plot

Cherie and the QueenEvery September, the Prime Minister joins the Queen on her late summer holiday to Balmoral in Scotland. It’s a trip that Cherie Blair clearly enjoys (see right), and it was assumed that this year would probably be her last.

But last night Tony Blair came back from Barbados with a bombshell for the Labour Party: he’s not about to announce his resignation at the party conference, and people should stop talking about when it’ll happen.

He’s stark-raving bonkers then.

More and more Tony Blair is acting as if he’s completely lost touch with reality and the wishes of those who put him in power in the first place. The country is tired of him, his party is tired of him, and every day he spends in power is another that the Conservatives seem to be gaining ground on Labour (in fact recent polls have put them several % ahead).

What exactly is there left for Blair to achieve that no-one else can manage? His most recent idea seems to be an increase in the use and power of ASBOs – an arrangement met with derision wherever it is mentioned, and irrelevant to the majority of people who find anti-social behaviour taking place on their doorstep.

Meanwhile David Cameron launches a campaign with Friends of the Earth in order to beat climate change, with tough targets that rival Arnie’s measures in California. It makes Blair’s visit there last month seem very hollow, and shows him to be far more in touch with the public’s concerns (and how to meet them) than Blair’s strange priorities.

But if Blair and Brown were the joint co-authors of New Labour and the ‘third way’ (which they weren’t), then surely Brown would be equally capable of taking over the reins and finishing what Blair started? Blair’s raison d’etre diminishes every time he comes on camera: his time is running out, there are plenty of people who could do the job as well as him, and they probably wouldn’t shed support from the public on a daily basis.

Ultimately, whatever he and his successor may do, it appears to be increasingly in vain. The ‘New Conservatives’ have taken a completely different approach to winning people over, not necessarily announcing policies, but certainly sending the right signals about where Britain should be heading. Labour, on the other hand, seems to be incapable of creating similar new ideas (or at least packaging them in a fresh way). It’s as if they’ve become so entwined with the bureaucracy that they run that the party machine has got stuck and is getting rusty.

There’s a statistic which might help to explain this: the number of government press officers has trebled since 1997. Why? Are we three times better informed? No.

The former editor of the (left-wing) New Statesman, Peter Wilby, seems to have got it right when he said that Labour will almost certainly lose the next election. But I’m not entirely sure it’ll be a good thing, as he suggests. If Labour can renew itself – and do so quickly – then they might be able to become a force for good again. But at the moment the war of attrition between Blair and the rest of the party is preventing Labour from making Britain better.


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